- Time: 3 weeks
- Expenses: less than $80 or 71€ per person per day (excludes airfares, rent a car)
- Season: all year around
Money and time-saving tips:
- Rent a car to get from destination to destination,
- book some attractions like Hobbiton, Milford Sound, Maori experience in advance, tickets sell out fast,
- buy groceries in stores like PAK’NSAVE or Countdown,
- save money by cooking yourself, eating out is often really expensive.
We can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this country is. New Zealand is one of the most exciting places we’ve visited, it’s a popular destination for adventure and nature lovers. You can hike volcanoes, glaciers, go skydiving, skiing, soak in natural pools, go kayaking, enjoy a wine tour… The country is so diverse, nature is amazing and the people are super friendly.
Our itinerary is a round trip on both islands, 1615 miles (2600 kilometers) long, which means on average a 2 to 3 hour drive every other day, to get from city to city. The best way to get around is by renting a car, so you are not tied to public transport.
Well, New Zealand can get a little expensive when it comes to eating out, buying food and drinks, but you can easily save money by cooking your own food by booking accommodations that have a kitchen like hostels, Airbnbs, etc. The average costs of accommodations are from 20€/$23 to 50€/$57 per night per person. The landmark tourist attractions are mostly free, but the adrenaline activities and tours can get a little pricey.
You’ll notice that our 3 week itinerary, consists of 19 days of exploration, it’s because we took into account the time you’ll need to travel from far away, from Europe you’ll need about 30h, which means more than 2 days for traveling to and from New Zealand. You need to take this into account when planning your trip.
New Zealand 3-week itinerary:
Day one – Auckland
Day two – Waitomo area
Day three – Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Day four – Taupo
Day five – Rotorua
Day six – Hobbiton and Christchurch
Day seven – Arthur’s Pass National park and Hokitika
Day eight – Hokitika Gorge and Franz Josef Glacier
Day nine – Fox Glacier and Wanaka
Day ten – Wanaka
Day eleven – Queenstown
Day twelve – Milford Sound
Day thirteen – Queenstown
Day fourteen – Queenstown and Glenorchy
Day fifteen – Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Day sixteen – Tekapo
Day seventeen – Christchurch
Day eighteen – Christchurch
Day nineteen – Auckland
If you are traveling from another part of the world we highly recommend that you take the first day to rest and nurture your jetlag. If you feel rested, take the day to explore Auckland. Start by visiting the Cornwall Park, it offers nice views and is a beautiful place to relax between the colorful gardens, trees and birds. From there go to the urban city center, get lost between the streets like the Karangahape Road the central business district. One of the best views you can get of the city is from the Sky Tower. The 328 meters/1076 feet tall tower is 25th tallest tower in the world and the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Now the exploration begins! Start the day with a drive to Waitomo Caves to find the magical glow worms. The tour takes you through the fantastic geological caves, where the glow worms light the cave ceilings. It is truly magnificent and something you don’t want to miss.
After the caves, you’ll stretch your legs at the Ruakuri scenic reserve, located only a few kilometers from the Waitomo Caves. This scenic reserve offers walks into the native forest, with natural bridges, caves and waterfalls.
Make sure you stop at Mangapohue natural bridge. It’s a 17 meters high limestone arch and the remains of once a natural ancient cave system. The loop track takes you about 30 minutes.
From there head on to Marokopa falls. Let’s just say that the reputation precedes them. They are one of the most beautiful falls in New Zealand. It’s a short walk, to get to them, about 10min one way.
From there head on to your accommodation, somewhere towards Lake Taupo and prepare for the next day for the Tongariro Alpine crossing.
Hike, hike, hike. Be prepared, this is a 19,4 kilometers / 12 miles long hike, that takes around 7-8 hours to complete. The track takes you through a volcanic landscape, steaming vents, alpine vegetation, crater lakes and offers one of the most amazing views of New Zealand. Check the weather the day before to make sure to avoid hazards and risks. The hike begins at 1120 meters and takes you to the highest point at 1886 meters. You’ll walk trough Mangatepopo Valley, between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through the South Crater to the highest point the Red Crater. From there the path takes you to Emerald Lakes and Blue lakes past Ketetahi Shelter to the end of the hike. Pack all your food and water as there are no places along the way where you can buy refreshments. Make sure you have layers of clothes because the weather can change any minute. Andi f you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’ll find Mt. Doom here officially named Mount Ngauruhoe!
After a tough day you had yesterday, it’s time to take it a bit more easy. Drive around lake Taupo, take photo stops along the way. There are plenty of stops where you can have a picnic or take a walk and get some stunning views along the way.
Your next stop is the Huka Falls. If you’re not too tired, take a walk them, it takes around 30 minutes one way, along the Waikato River. Once there you’ll have plenty of lookout stops and beautiful views of the Falls. Otherwise, there is a car park near the falls and it takes you only 5 minutes to reach the main lookout. You can also swim or a soak in the beginning of the walk! A hot stream mixes with the Waikato river, which makes it warm and nice to relax in.
The last stop of the day is the Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal wonderland. Due to geothermal activity, there are many hot springs, geysers and pools here. The most known and colorful is the Champagne Pool. It’s a nice place to visit and walk around. The length of the walk depends on which route you take from half an hour to an hour and a half. It’s something special when you see all the different colors. We recommend driving and staying to Rotorua and spending the next two nights there.
After a good breakfast take a drive to The Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest. Here you’ll find a variety of outdoor activities to do, from hikes to biking. The Forest is full of exotic tree species, where you’ll walk between the giant Sequoia trees, know as the tallest and massive trees on Earth.
There are different walkways you can take, depending on how much time you want to spend there.
After your morning walk, head towards the Okere Falls. Make sure you stop along the lake of Rotorua and grab some lunch.
Next on the schedule is a 30-minute walk through a forest with lookouts over the Okere River and its waterfalls.
Drive back to the city and explore the Ohinemutu, a living Maori village.
In the evening, book one of the Maori cultural experience tours. It’s worth the money. The Tamaki Maori Village we booked lasted about 3 hours for the whole experience, where you meet the Maoris who introduced us to their culture. It’s magnificent, the people are really welcoming, you can participate in the Maori activities and what’s more thrilling, at the end you see them perform their traditional songs and dances. Of course, they don’t forget to feed you with their traditional food. Delicious!
In the morning start your way towards the Hobbiton movie set. Even if you’re not a fan or didn’t see the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, you will enjoy your time here. This cute set offers a sight into the lives of Hobbits, past Hobbit holes, the Mill and the famous Green Dragon Inn, where you are served beer. It’s so well made and the tour is amazing lasting 2-2,5 hours. You’ll experience a bit of Middle-earth, the pastures of the Shire where the Hobbits live. Pre Booking is essential as their tours sell-out in advance. After the Hobbiton movie set, drive back to Auckland and hop on a plane to Christchurch.
Early in the morning leave Christchurch, set a course towards Arthur’s Pass. The first stop on the way is the Kura Tawhiti. The track takes 20 minutes or more if you want to walk around the limestone formations, which are visible from the road, you can’t miss them. It’s an amazing experience walking between the stones.
Continue towards the Arthur’s Pass National park. There are some amazing hikes you can do in the park, depending on how much time you would like to spend there and how much would you like to see. The Devils Punchbowl walk is a must! An hour (return) long track takes you to a waterfall plunging down from 131 meters and it’s one of the best waterfalls you’ll see in New Zealand.
There a lot of other walks you can do as well:
– Millennium Walk (10 minutes return Avalanche Creek Waterfall), Lake Misery Track (40 minutes return), Arthur’s Pass Walking Track (3 hour return – view of Dobson Memorial) and more.
On your way to Hokitika stop at the Otira Viaduct Lookout, for a great view and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll find some native birds there like Kea.
After arriving in Hokitika, drive to the shore somewhere near the Hokitika sign and enjoy the sunset.
When the sun sets and it gets completely dark, head up to the Glow Worm Dell and enjoy the light show.
The first stop on your way is the Hokitika Gorge. This walk takes about 30 minutes altogether through the dense forest and swing bridge over the Hokitika River to a beautiful lookout point of the Gorge.
From there drive to the next stop, The Franz Josef Glacier. It’s not a difficult walk, it takes you less than an hour and a half to get there and back. If it’s a clear day, you’ll see the Franz Josef Glacier from the carpark, but the view from up close is much more magnificent, and the walk offers smaller waterfalls along the way. The ice and rocks can fall, so stay on track and read the warning signs. Enjoy the rest of the day by soaking in the Franz Josef Hot Pools or grab a drink at a local bar.
Another day, another glacier. A quick drive will lead you to another amazing view. There are 2 possible walks to the Fox Glacier lookout point. The first one takes an hour return and the other about 20 minutes return. We went for the short one because the road was closed. So check the traffic info of the roads before you head out.
After the Fox Glacier, drive to the Ship Creek, where you can choose between two great walks the Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk and the Dune Lake Walk. If you’re up to it, do both!
Next is the Haast Pass. A park with a variety of walking and hiking choices. Visit the magnificent Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls. These are short walks (the first one takes 20 minutes return, the next two only a few minutes). For a great view of the valley and mountains take the Haast Pass lookout track, it takes less than an hour return and you get same gorgeous views at the top. The last stop should be the Blue Pools, a beautiful walk between blue water, that takes 40 minutes there and back.
Conclude your day in Wanaka, grabbing dinner with a view of the lake.
This day is reserved for exploring Wanaka and its surrounding mountains.
The Diamond Lake and the Rocky Mountain walks, take about 3 hours round trip, taking you by the Diamond Lake, the Lake Wanaka lookout point and to the top of the Rocky Mountain. The words can’t describe the view, Wanaka is truly mesmerizing!
After a nice lunch in the city, stretch your legs on another beautiful walk to Mount Iron. An hour and 45-minute return track gives you a 360-degree view of Wanaka and it’s surroundings.
Enjoy the evening in one of the local pubs and restaurants and the sunset on Lake Wanaka or neat the That Wanaka Tree.
We recommend a walk on the coast of Lake Wanaka as well as grabbing a picture of That Wanaka Tree. Get some coffee and then drive to Queenstown. Use this day just chill in the city, discover some great food, take a walk near Lake Wakatipu and enjoy the evening lights.
Book a tour that will take you to Milford Sound. The tour lasts around 13 hours. We recommend the tour because it’s a long drive and this way you can enjoy the surroundings through the window with no worries. You’ll stop at Te Anau to take a quick walk through the city and enjoy Milford Sound from a boat which will take you on a cruise through this breathtaking landscape. Take a wind/waterproof jacket, as you may get wet since the Capitan is nice enough to take you under one of the waterfalls. If you’re lucky like us you’ll see a lot of dolphins and seals. Just an amazing way to spend the day.
In the morning take a hike to Bob’s Peak, if you’re not up to it you can take the Gondola. But the hike offers some great views, it’s worth every minute. At the top go for the Skyline Luge. It so much fun, riding these little carts down the hill with an awesome view. After a good lunch head to Lake Wakatipu, grab some good coffee and enjoy the sunset with the view of the Remarkables, they really are remarkable.
It’s time for a helicopter tour! There is a lot to choose from and even though it’s a little expensive, trust us this, this is the best place to take a helicopter ride because the views are some of the best you’ll see anywhere. There are a lot of tours to choose from, depending on the length of the ride, landings and route. Since we’re Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans, we went for a reasonably priced LOTR helicopter tour and it was hands down the best experience we had in New Zealand.
In the afternoon take a drive to Glenorchy, a city at the far end of Lake Wakatipu. Even the drive to it offers beautiful spots with really gorgeous views.
Head to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. After a long drive, stretch your legs by walking the Hooker Valley Track. A beautiful track where you’re surrounded with steep mountains and gorges scenery. It’s an easy walk, not at all steep, but it takes you around 3 hours to get back.
Now had for Lake Tekapo, make some stops by the Lake Pukaki to take some pictures and enjoy a picnic. Accommodations in Lake Tekapo are usually expensive, maybe book something in Fairlie, it’s 30min away.
In the morning go for a hike to Mt John. You’ll get a great view of the Lake Tekapo and its surroundings. It’s a beautiful a 3-hour loop track up to the summit and then down and around the mountain via a track that runs alongside the shores of Lake Tekapo. If you’re not up for a walk you can just drive to the top. There is a little cafe, where you can grab some snacks, lunch or coffee. Have your camera ready, there are a lot of friendly birds around just waiting for you to take some pics.
After a refreshing walk head to Tekapo Springs go and have fun in the hot water to relax your muscles. There have great pools, sauna and waterslides.
In the evening grab some pictures at Church of the Good Shepherd and wait for the sunset. If you’re lucky and the sky is clear you’ll get some dazzling photos, amazing sunset and a great view of the stars at pitch black. This is the perfect place for stargazing as there is almost no light pollution.
In the morning say goodbye to Lake Tekapo and head to Christchurch. Park your car somewhere in the city and take a walk through Christchurch Botanic Gardens. They are amazing, a lot of birds, native bush and trees.
Next stop is the Canterbury Museum. Here you’ll find everything from Quake City, Antarctic Gallery, Asian Arts and more.
Have fun, grab some dinner and head to the nightlife.
Drive to the seaside. Have fun, enjoy the sand between your toes and if you’re up for it, you can even take a seal tour. After a short drive to Akaroa you can walk at the shoreline and observe colonies of seals in their natural habitat. In the afternoon, fly back to Auckland.
This is your last day in New Zealand. If possible take an evening flight home which will give you time to explore the city and grab some last minute souvenirs. Check the Waitemata Harbour and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Take a walk through downtown Auckland, where the modern city meets some early architecture. The Ferry Building, Chief Post Office, Auckland Town Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and more.
If you have more days to spend, that’s not going to be a problem. Just add to your list places like Wellington, Kaikoura, Bay of Islands, etc. There is a lot more of New Zealand to explore!
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